"I'm thankful for my grandparents, because they help put me to bed," said my 4-year-old.
I don't usually feel emotional about statements like this, but her statement hit a chord. You see, as a working parent, my parents and my in-laws have been instrumental in the upbringing of my young kids. I'm reminded of all of those years of medical school and residency when my mom would sleep with the baby so I could get a good night's sleep.
My kids and I play this game almost every night that we call "meditation." No, we don't sit in a darkened room, in yoga positions with spiritual music in the background. Most times, we don't spend more than 10 minutes doing it. Essentially, It's a few, calm minutes of sitting on the floor in our pajamas where we just reflect on the day, our lives or each other. We try not to talk about "stuff" (toys, video games, etc.). I put my phone away, and the other electronics are turned off.
What I love is that, sometimes, it's the first time of the day that I get to really look into my kids' eyes and engage with them. They're not moving, eating or watching something. They are just focused on the task at hand, and, we can have a meaningful exchange that doesn't end like many of our other conversations do -- with "fine" or "good." It's also become my most precious gateway into their thoughts.
For me, it gives me clarity, calmness and a chance to be mindful. I don't think I would "schedule" mindfulness into my day had it not been for this game.
The kids love it. Maybe because it reminds them of circle time. Maybe it's because they get to stay up 15 minutes later. I'm actually not quite sure why they like it so much. Surely, they haven't read the research regarding the benefits of mindfulness so it has to be something else.
We usually pick a topic like, "What are you grateful for right now?" Sometimes, we focus on our deep breaths. Sometimes, we reflect on the day (best part, disappointing part, exciting part). Note: I am not a meditation teacher, but that's OK, because I don't have a complicated agenda.
Many times after they go to sleep, I continue to think about the topics we touched on. For example, when my daughter said the statement about being thankful for her grandparents, I started to feel gratitude. I thought about how thankful I was to be able to have children, a career and pursue my passions. I simply did not think that was all possible as a young medical student.
Since I have started playing this game with them, I have become more adept at practicing mindfulness in my day. I find myself using small moments to reflect, focus on my breath, etc.
The main impetus for starting this game stems from the fact that the benefits of mindfulness and meditation are no longer anecdotal. Scientific evidence proves that it lowers stress, and improves academic performance. It's also shown to help people sleep better and protects against depression. That's exactly what we all want for our kids -- and ourselves.
I am convinced that the next generation will have to deal with more stress, more uncertainty and more crisis than we did, and we should arm them with any little tool that can help them cope with these pressures.
As said by Deepak Chopra, "People think meditation is a huge undertaking. Don't think of it like that."
It can be as simple as a kid's game.